On the day that BAMcinématek’s six-day series Friedkin 70s opens, the Venice Film Festival has announced that William Friedkin will receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement during its 70th anniversary edition (August 28 through September 7). As noted in mid-April, the 77-year-old director also has a memoir out, The Friedkin Connection, and he’s been making the rounds. Yesterday, he was chatting about the book and his career on the Leonard Lopate Show, and tonight and tomorrow night, he’ll be doing Q&A’s following screenings at BAM.
Those’d be worth catching if you can. As he’s proven in interview after interview, Friedkin’s a lively, no-holds-barred talker, while at the same time, always fair, or at least never taking the piss out of anyone who doesn’t deserve it. He began directing live television and documentaries before he was twenty and, introducing his interview for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Casey Burchby notes that his 1962 doc The People vs. Paul Crump “examined the case of a man sentenced to the electric chair for murdering a security guard during a robbery, although his accomplices received only prison sentences. Friedkin’s film was a contributing factor in Crump’s sentence ultimately being commuted.”
The 70’s, of course, brought resounding critical and box office success with The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) as well as an Oscar for the former. “For years,” writes Vadim Rizov at the AV Club, “the public cavalierly wrote off director William Friedkin as an early-’70s Hollywood burnout who’d lapsed into decades of mostly disastrous work. Then, with 2006’s Bug and 2011’s Killer Joe, viewers started taking him seriously again. Friedkin is aware of this unfair, simplistic perception—one chapter of his memoir The Friedkin Connection, addressing his post-Exorcist decline into big-budget failures, is titled ‘Hubris.’ And he knows which of his titles most readers will want to hear about: He devotes a third of the book to The French Connection and The Exorcist. The volume glosses over his professional-wilderness years (1990’s notorious killer-tree flop The Guardian is conspicuously unmentioned) and omits his personal life almost entirely, apart from some family anecdotes. This selective lack of detail, he says, is ‘lest the book be slapped with an NC17 rating.'” Vadim nonetheless recommends the read: “Humorless but leanly satisfying, it’s the work of a man who can admit a director must have ‘the solution to whatever problems arise,’ including, on three different occasions, hitting an actor in the face to get the desired reaction.”
In April, the Dallas International Film Festival presented Friedkin with its Dallas Star Award. This interview runs just over an hour.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s run an extract from the book, a passage on The Exorcist in which, as Gregg Kilday notes, Friedkin recalls “how Warner Bros. refused to hire him, the fight to cast Ellen Burstyn and the shocking confession that got Linda Blair the part.”
Writing about the BAMcinématek series for Artforum, Melissa Anderson concentrates on two films that “bookended the decade,” The Boys in the Band (1970) and Cruising (1980). “If some viewers now, as then, cringe at what, though certainly well-intentioned and heartfelt, plays like pink-face minstrelsy, certain aspects of Boys endure for their authenticity and poignancy.” And it’s “precisely the vérité aspect of Cruising, filmed in actual Meatpacking District s/m clubs like the Mineshaft and the Anvil with real habitués, that gives the film such potency.”
Back to Burchby, who notes that Sorcerer (1977) “has recently been the subject of renewed interest and critical praise; To Live and Die in L.A.  is considered to be one of the very best police thrillers of the 1980s; and last year’s Killer Joe—a rollicking, skanky noir-comedy—elicits outstanding performances from a very game cast, notably Matthew McConaughey in what is easily his darkest role to date.” Do see Eddie Muller‘s interview with Friedkin regarding that one. “In the meantime, Friedkin has also developed a parallel career as a director of operas on stages around the world.”
More interviews with Friedkin: Dave Itzkoff (New York Times), Brent Lang (TheWrap), and Susan Stamberg (NPR). Meantime, Flavorwire‘s Jason Bailey lists the “Best Books by Great Filmmakers,” beginning with the Connection, noting that it’s the “rare memoir that’s as interested in making amends as settling scores.”
Update, 5/3: Friedkin, who won a Golden Gate Award for his first documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1962, will be presenting a master class at SFIFF on Wednesday, May 8.
Update, 5/6: “This may be surprising to you, but when I became a film director, what I really wanted to do was make MGM musicals.” Bilge Ebiri talks with Friedkin for Vulture.
Update, 5/14: Friedkin was at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica last week, and Stephen Saito was there, taking notes, recording anecdotes. At one point, interviewer F.X. Feeney asked him about Interior. Leather Bar: “‘James Franco tried to get the rights to remake Cruising on two occasions,’ Friedkin said. ‘He wanted to remake the whole film and of course, that’s not possible. But I actually heard from some people involved with it that he was shooting a film about the missing 40 minutes of Cruising. About halfway through the shooting, he called me and he introduced himself. I had never met him and he said, “You know, I’m trying to make a film about the missing 40 minutes of Cruising.” I said, uh huh. And he said, “By the way, what were the missing 40 minutes?” [laughs] ‘I swear to God, he’d been shooting it! I said, “Well, it was just pure pornography that I shot because I could.”‘”